TRICK or treat?
Cork fans will be hoping to be granted a treat, rather than a horrible trick, when the Cork hurlers kick off their 2020 Munster Hurling Championship campaign against Waterford on what will be a Halloween hurling weekend.
In these strange spooky times, the round-robin structure has been parked and replaced with a system that will take less time to complete, which makes sense given the restricted time available to the GAA.
We’re not going that far back in time, in fairness.
We quickly forget, but the provincial system was only introduced in 2018, so we are effectively back to where we were in 2017.
Plus, the hurlers have the luxury of knowing that they’re guaranteed a second chance should there be a Halloween horror show against the Déise.
This is, of course, a luxury that the Cork footballers do not have this year.
Cork definitely got a favourable draw, given that they know they just have to win one game against Waterford to reach the provincial decider, but the thing is, Waterford will be thinking the exact same thing.
The last two years have not gone well for Waterford – basically, they have fallen off a cliff since losing the 2017 All-Ireland decider to Galway – but now, under the tutelage of Liam Cahill we can expect a resurgence in Waterford’s form.
Cahill was the manager of the All-Ireland winning Tipperary sides of 2018 and 2019 in the U21 and U20 grades. He would probably have been hoping to step up to the senior hot seat in Tipp, but given Liam Sheedy’s successful return he will have to bide his time in that regard.
Obviously, he feels that the best way to position himself as Sheedy’s eventual successor is to further embellish his already impressive CV by resurrecting Waterford’s fortunes.
Given his record against Cork in the last few years he will fancy his chances of doing just that in his first championship outing.
Cork destroyed Cahill’s Tipp charges in the 2018 U21 Munster decider, on a scoreline of 2-23 to 1-13, but since then Cahill has had the Indian sign over Cork, with a revenge victory in the 2018 All-Ireland U21 Final, followed by wins in the Munster and All-Ireland Finals at U20 level.
The common denominator around these three victories were the manner in which Cahill’s Tipp sides had a consistently manic work-rate.
There was no shortage of quality hurling, but a feature of his side’s performances was definitely the hunger they brought to the table for every game.
The early indications of Cahill’s reign at Waterford would suggest that this same mantra will be very much a part of their approach this year.
In their very first league game at Walsh Park on January 26th Waterford completely outworked Cork when winning 1-24 to 3-17, with some ‘lesser lights’ looking like thoroughbreds within Cahill’s set-up from the get-go.
The time of year will suit Cahill’s approach too. One suspects that the team that lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup in the build up to Christmas will be the one who has brought the most to the inevitable trench warfare that is about to ensue.
Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, all notions we have re championship hurling can be ripped up and thrown out the window - for this year anyway.
We are going to get no long summer evenings, fast ground, or Munster Championship sunburns this year. This championship is going to resemble league hurling.
We have to expect poor conditions, cold, wet weather, muddy pitches, heavy ball and so on.
Therefore, with that in mind, teams probably have to start thinking very differently about the way they are going to hurl for the remainder of the year. There is no point in picking the light speedy lads that you may have earmarked for this summer.
It will be Halloween hurling, after all, things are going to go bump in the night, and managers have to select teams that can stand up to the inevitable physicality that this is going to bring.
Any hurler with a decent Fitzgibbon Cup campaign in the last few years has to come into consideration straight away. For Cork, Chris O’Leary, Niall O’Leary, Robert Downey and Shane Kingston impressed in UCC’s last two winter wins, so those showings should stand to them.
Tim O’Mahony, meanwhile, impressed for Mary I in the competition too.
These are the types of form that the Cork management need to look at going forward.
Cork and Limerick would be the main exponents of trying to play through the lines, but hurling at the back end of the year would not be conducive to such an approach.
Cork will probably have to get much more direct in their hurling if they wish to prevail this year, and with that in mind, they will have to tailor their selections accordingly.
The aforementioned O’Mahony should certainly be guaranteed a starting spot in this new approach, and not in defence either. That ship has sailed. Midfield, half-forward, or even spells at full-forward.
That is where the Newtown man needs to be deployed.
Declan Dalton would also appear suited to this kind of hurling.
Doubts persist over his ‘lack of pace’, but in winter pace is not that important.
Cork certainly have quicker forwards, but these forwards could go missing in a dogfight and may not be suited to what is coming down the tracks. In reality, the likelihood is that a lot of the championship matches that we are going to see this year will see huge congestion in the middle third.
The likes of Kilkenny, Wexford and Limerick will relish the hunting grounds that this type of hurling throws up. Cork must adapt their game to be able to complete in such tight surrounds.
If that means that the Cork management have to rethink the type of player they are going to select against Waterford then so be it.